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Dealing With Bullies: Survival Skills

Expert tips for overweight teens on what to do about bullying.
By Joanne Barker
WebMD Feature

Overweight teen being bulliedWhile other teens are obsessed with clothes and what's happening Friday night, you may feel like your weight overshadows everything -- feeling uncomfortable in your own skin and around other people. And after enough thoughtless, mean, insensitive comments, you may think it's easier to just accept yourself as what you hear others calling you: "the fat kid."

"Teens who feel ashamed of their weight may believe they deserve to be bullied," says Christopher Tiongson, MD, a pediatrician at Sanford Children's Clinic Southwest in Fargo, N.D. But this is simply not true. "No one deserves to be bullied," he says. Being bullied is not your fault -- bullies have difficulties getting along with other people.

Bullies like to hurt and humiliate. This makes them feel more powerful. Name-calling, teasing, and pushing or hitting all count as bullying. So is excluding someone from social situations, sending hurtful texts, and posting insulting messages. And being bullied can harm you -- physically and emotionally.

When bullies say mean things about you, you may translate them in your head into something else that you feel bad about, says Becky Hashim, MA, a clinical psychologist at Children's Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y. A bully might say, "You're a fat slob," but what you hear is "I should stop eating cookies" or "I am horrible at gym." And that makes the taunting feel even worse.

What to Do About Bullying

Remember -- you are a great person! It's important to separate who you are from what you weigh. The person you are isn't just your body. Your personality and your talents and the things you care about are the important parts of what makes you you.

"Kids need to focus on things they can do right now to feel good about themselves," says Hashim. Spending time on your strengths -- music, art, math, reading, or whatever -- will help build your confidence. And that will make you a less inviting target to bullies.

Talk to an adult about what's going on. Your parents won't know what's happening unless you tell them, and if they don't know, they can't help. If you're being bullied at school, tell someone there. Teachers, coaches, counselors, and administrators -- part of their job is to make it a safe place for everyone to learn.

If you are concerned about your weight, taking action can help you feel better. Ask an adult you can trust -- your doctor, a parent, a teacher, a coach -- for help to make a plan to become healthier. Remember, it can take time, so focus on what you can do today. Congratulate yourself for each small step you make in a healthy direction. Take it one day at a time.